Nintendo downshifts on mobile ambitions after Animal Crossing success

Nintendo Co. is retreating from the $77 billion mobile gaming arena after disappointing results deflated once-lofty ambitions, ending a multiyear effort just as the market goes through an unprecedented boom sparked by the coronavirus.

President Shuntaro Furukawa proclaimed two years ago that smartphone games would be a $1 billion business with growth potential, building on his predecessor’s promise that Nintendo would release two to three mobile titles each year. That spurred hopes among investors that the gaming powerhouse could carve out a substantial slice of the market. In May, however, the president adopted a markedly different tune, saying “We are not necessarily looking to continue releasing many new applications for the mobile market.”

Nintendo’s shares slid 4 percent the day after that remark. Close observers might have sensed Nintendo was growing disillusioned with the mobile realm even earlier. Its smartphone games project was born out of necessity to shore up the bottom line amid the Wii U’s failure. Now, riding a surge in Switch popularity and investor confidence, the Kyoto-based company appears to have reassessed the mobile business and narrowed its focus to its own console ecosystem.

In the period from February through May, when other studios were posting record earnings during the virus lockdowns, Sensor Tower data showed marquee Nintendo titles like Super Mario Run plummeting by double digits. At the same time, Nintendo’s own Animal Crossing: New Horizons had just become the quintessential haven from virus anxiety, powering the Switch console to new heights of popularity and pushing the company’s share price to a 12-year high last week.

Mobile games are expected to make $77.2 billion this year, which would account for half of the overall video game industry’s sales, according to research from Newzoo. But “since the release of Mario Kart Tour in fall 2019, Nintendo’s mobile pipeline is empty,” said Serkan Toto, a mobile games consultant in Tokyo. “In a sense, Nintendo’s enormous success on console reduced the need and the pressure to put resources into mobile.”

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